We Are Orlando

orlando strongThe longest week in recent memory just ended for many who call Orlando home, especially for those in the LGBTQ and Latino community. Uncertainty, fear, and grief are only one side of the story emerging in Orlando. The flip side includes overwhelming feelings of love, compassion, and unity. Time and again, when unnecessary and uninvited hatred shows up at our front door, strong communities rally and shift in to get shit done mode. Love wins. Every time.

As a lesbian who came out later in life, at times I have struggled with feeling stuck between the straight and gay world. My post coming out years have not been immune to countless moments of being unsure of my place in either world. This is common whenever any kind of change pops up in our lives.

I originally planned to take a week off from writing. Clearly, I was not successful. Finding words has been difficult to do in the midst of the swirling emotions and overall heaviness of what happened at Pulse. Inspiration can happen in an instant. Mine came after reading a few stories of “first gay bar experiences” penned by many well-known public figures.

Many who are not in the LGBTQ community have expressed difficulty understanding how a bar could be more than just a place to buy drinks, dance, or look for a hook up. Five years ago I would have been asking the same question. Safe place? But I get it now. Sometimes the only way to truly comprehend something is to experience and feel it on a deeply personal level.

Gay bars provide a respite from the judgments, opinions, or negativity that lurks around every corner as we navigate through our lives and move about the world. Corny alert. It feels like sitting on your grandmother’s lap with a plate of cookies made from scratch or like a hug from your favorite person in the world.

Being automatically accepted, loved, and celebrated for who you are is often a luxury if you are gay. Even though my wife and I were never closeted, it still took us months to get up the courage to go to our first gay club.

Why? Good question. We were terrified about not knowing anyone, not fitting in, and definitely not knowing what to wear. Simply, we were full on chicken. Silly, I know. But true. Those early months were full of more questions than answers and we were flying blind.

The decision to get over ourselves and to just get in the damn car and drive is one of our better moments. The name of the club was The Revolution. Fitting. We chose a Saturday night because it was ladies night and seemed less scary. Did I mention we were terrified? Unnecessarily so.

I still have a hard time describing what it felt like to be somewhere where we forgot we were the exception to the rule. Inside we were free to be ourselves, without any explanation or conversation needed. We could breathe and take a break from the hell that was still unfolding after coming out with regard to our families, friends, and community.

We stayed until it closed and hated to leave. By stepping outside of our cocoon and reaching out while afraid, we began the process of accepting the changes happening in our lives. We could breathe deeply and felt like a part of this new community. On that night we truly understood how a bar could be more than where drinks are served and people dance.

Our decision to go has brought love to our lives on so many levels. I feel grateful for the bartender, who I love dearly and call friend. This weekend our paths crossed while we visited our home away from home, The Venue. Each time I see her I am reminded of my journey and her kindness to two strangers our first night at The Revolution. In addition to making mixing amazing drinks, she also gives the best hugs, which is the perfect representation of what it feels like to be a part of the LGBTQ community in Orlando.

Our circle of love and friendship has grown in ways that we never could have envisioned while standing in our closet, literally, fretting over what to wear. This past week we saw many of them working tirelessly to help everyone affected by the horror at Pulse. So many. Too many to name and they would be embarrassed if I did, but they know who they are. One Love.

The camera crews have gone home, but there is still so much to do and many who are hurting, grieving, and just trying to put one foot in front of the other. Send love in whatever way you feel is best this week, and the next, and the next.

Make a donation, get a tattoo, give someone a hug and tell them you love them, or just tell them you are happy to see them. Be grateful for every blessing, remember those who are no longer with us and their families and friends. Take a look at your life and search your heart to know the areas that need healing. Ask for help if you are struggling and know that you are not alone with whatever is bringing heaviness to your being. This is courage. We are all Orlando.